Ten ghosts

ten ghosts

I was in bed one night last month, all as per usual. Todd was gently snoring and I was fidgeting about trying to fall asleep, when I heard it. “What did you say?” I asked. But on he snored, so this time I gave him a little shove as I repeated: “what did you say?” “Eh, oh, what?” he replied. I repeated myself and he insisted that not a word had passed his lips before returning to that gentle snore. To be fair, it hadn’t sounded like him. Todd’s a bit loud and this had been the gentlest of whispers. I lay still and listened for what seemed like ages before starting to drift off again. Then it happened again, but this time I stayed quiet and listened – really, really hard.

I’d turned a fan on before going to sleep, but there was definitely something else and it sounded like whispers. The longer I listened, the more certain I became that there were multiple voices whispering in the dark. At some point I must’ve drifted off because when I woke up, the fan was off and the whispers were clear.

They were talking about me. I heard them say “Her” and yes, it was with a capital H. Then one of them used my name. I tried not to freak out and concentrated on just keeping my breathing regular as if I was meditating. I heard one of them say “that car, it’s so old” whilst another chimed in with “and yet she drives it so fast, always going over the speed limit”. I had to really focus on not sitting up and saying “hey, don’t talk about me like that!” Then a really little girl voice said: “I’m so scared for her, there’s been too many near misses on roundabouts”. And that chilled me. She was right, I’d become a tad cavalier and noticed that I was getting rather more hoots than usual on roundabouts. I made a mental note to scale back the speed and be more careful at junctions. And then I drifted back to sleep.

In the morning, I convinced myself it had all been a dream. But it kept happening. If I woke in the middle of the night, kept quiet and really listened, I could hear them. There were a lot of voices, although four were particularly vocal. They would discuss what had been happening during the day and sometimes they would hark back to other stuff. Each seemed to have a particular bee in their bonnet. One man didn’t like Todd and kept pointing out negative things about him: “he drinks too much” or “I don’t like his temper” and “why does he’s keep saying uncomplimentary things about how she looks?” It was weird, if I was having a conversation, I’d been able to defend him, but I wasn’t, and so their opinions stayed out there, worming their way into my mind. I can’t say I liked what I heard. The worst was when they all started to agree with him “he’s so controlling …”.

I took that man’s advice one day and packed my bags. I’d pretended to go to work, but came home once he’d gone. I’d been planning it for a while now – putting aside a bit of money in a secret savings account and arranging to work for my old mate Julie in her pub down in Wales. I hated my job anyway and as I’d just been paid – straight into that new savings account – I was skipping town with my month’s wages. The doorbell rang – it was that man-with-a-van I’d hired to help me move. There wasn’t much I wanted to take mind, I didn’t want any reminders, so I took only what I’d brought with me. The van followed me on my final task – dropping my car at the local second-hand dealer. He was only giving me a few quid for scrap value, but it was one more thing put behind me.

My whispering ghosts were going to be happy tonight …


© Debra Carey, 2017

Advertisements

#Secondthoughts: Kill Your Darlings

If you follow the writing community on Twitter, and indeed on other social media I expect, you will frequently see bits of advice done up nicely, almost like a little gem of a motivational poster.  Nice font, an appropriate pic, the whole shebang.  Some are new-spun, most are bon mot or bon juste extracted from the sayings of well-known names, some still alive, some no longer with us and some from quite a long time ago.

I’ve noticed that should you be so inclined, you could probably do a nice bit of meta-analysis and group such advice into a relatively small number of sets.  One of these is “Kill your darlings”, although this is probably an extreme version of “make them suffer”, the point is that you need to be prepared to be horrible to the characters you love, not just the ones that you think deserved to be offed.  This isn’t just a case of editing out a secondary character who just isn’t pulling their weight, oh no.  You might have to kill off a much-loved character…

“Make them suffer” is justified on the basis of making the character grow.  I don’t know how much Dickens actually liked Sidney Carton as a character, but he did “kill off his darling” in order to show how much the character had grown – “It is a far better thing I do now, than I have ever done before”…  But is making your character suffer, and even die, all that it sometimes seems to be?

Two thoughts before we continue.

  1. I watched Strike recently, the TV adaptation of the first two ‘Cormoran Strike’ novels by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling).  I guess I’ve broken the first rule by watching the adaptation before the book, but to be honest, whilst I love a detective novel, when I saw the brouhaha when the book was launched, I really couldn’t be bothered, not even with after seeing this summary.  I quite liked the show: the casting was brilliant, and the key actors brought a warmth and humanity to the whole thing which meant that I didn’t feel that I’d wasted my time watching it. But.  The whole thing was clichéd beyond the point of being ridiculous, and frequently made my teeth itch, which was a shame.  Cormoran Strike, in particular, is such a bundle of “let’s make his life difficult” ideas that it is no wonder that he drinks so much, and incredible that he ever gets anything done.  If an alternate turned up in a Jasper fforde novel, he would probably be there to take industrial action.
  2. Do things always need to grow to be worth reading about?  As an example, lets look at P.G. Wodehouse.  It’s difficult to find as much energy expended to return things to the status quo as you find in a P.G. Wodehouse story once the balance has been tipped, and yet the stories remain popular, to the point that they are almost imprinted on the collective consciousness.

As with most things to do with writing, at least part of the answer is probably to do with your audience.  Sticking with detective stories, sometimes you want something quite cerebral with an unexpected detective being brainy and pulling the strings, and sometimes you want roof-top chases.  Sometimes it’s all about an every-person blundering into things and sometimes it’s the trained detective doing it by the book and getting on with the job (albeit guided by their gut/nose/other part of the body as appropriate).  You could argue that Miss Marple goes through some kind of growth – she has to learn to accept the success of her nephew and the consequent financial support that he provides and she has to deal with her increasing fraility.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that death is a part of life, and we shouldn’t not talk about it – an unexpected character dying in an unexpected way should shock, but not be shocking, if you see what I mean.  But as writers, and indeed as readers, we should be open to other forms of shock, and other forms of growth.  People die every day – the “crude death rate” is currently under 1% (81 people in every 10000 per year) – but it doesn’t affect everyone, everyday.


© David Jesson, 2017

Fire

Fire.  The two-edged sword.  Our ancestors thought they’d tamed it when they started using it to cook their food and to drive the darkness back from the cave-entrance.  (There’s an irony for you – all they really succeeded in doing was creating shadows, but that’s another story).  Fire is never as tame as we think though, and we forget that at our peril.  It’s never good when fire gets out of control and you can pretty much guarantee that if you manage to get away from wild-fire with your life intact then you should thank your lucky stars and think about ways to stop pushing your luck.  If you are on a ship, or an aircraft, then not only is the situation likely to be an order of magnitude worse but there are fewer ways to escape the situation.  It’s easy to say that the automatic systems are going to be correspondingly better, but sometimes that just isn’t enough, and sometimes the automatics are the first things to fail… And when you are on a spacecraft, then things get an order of magnitude worse again.

The automatic systems were amongst those that had been knocked out, but in that whole realm of perversity where you’re never sure whether something is counter-intuitive or not, being in space, whilst making many things more difficult, was going to make putting the fire out a veritable cake-walk.  Sort of.  And yes, there are a number of factors that I’m failing to mention.

One of the first of many drills that those going into space must learn to do in their sleep is to get into their space-suit as soon as they hear any one of half a dozen warning sirens.  I was terribly – nearly terminally – slow getting into my suit.  A disgrace to my tutors and more importantly it nearly cost me my life.  In my defence, things had been a little…trying of late, although this is not an argument that I would want to make to St. Peter, or more likely a bright red chap with a pitch-fork.  Suffice it to say that I had been running a ship that the Board stipulates should have a skeleton crew of three (and deep-space operations are never carried out with skeleton crews), on my own, for over…oh by now about 100 hours.

I’d thought that I’d got things onto a fairly even keel, and taken the opportunity to catch up on some sleep against the time (which I was fairly certain was coming) when I’d need to be back at full alert.  Such as when something (I’ll probably never know exactly what) ended up working a little too hard, sending a shower of sparks over something else already at a critical level and leading to the most recent of my problems.

Should there have been enough of my mortal remains left to find at some stage in the future, the pathologist would have had a tough time choosing a cause of death.  Since fatigue never actually killed anyone except through the kind of circumstances where a man is struggling to put his suit on in an emergency, they would probably have gone for smoke inhalation.  Just before the point where that would have been the only decision left to make, and after all, one that was out of my control, my hind brain realised what was going, and gave me a swift kick in the form of convulsive coughing.  I dragged myself into my suit and felt the cooling flow of air as I sealed the helmet.  There was a worrying moment as my fume fogged brain searched for the leak which my nose said had to be somewhere since I could smell and feel the biting, acrid smoke drying out my nose and throat.  As the oxygen cleared my head I realised that it was simply that the filters of the recirculating system were struggling to cope with the smoke that was clinging to my ship-suit and hair – it had been that close.

As has already been intimated, many of the automatic systems were down – the fire suppression system being the one that I was currently missing the most.  Bits of damage control were still up.  In theory it should have sealed the compartments automatically, but obviously hadn’t.  I said a brief prayer (scripture actually tells us to ask for things – we might not get them, but it’s ok to ask) as I bypassed the subroutine and keyed the doors to close: the alternative was that I’d have to close the doors manually.  There were two things wrong with that.  One I probably wouldn’t have enough time before the fire spread.  Two I wouldn’t be able to get to the other side of the compartment that was merrily ablaze to close the other hatch.  I’d be in danger of losing half the ship including access to the power and propulsion systems.  I punched the button and mercy of mercies the hatches closed.

Have you ever come across the triangle of fire?  Basically it states that for combustion to occur there must be three ingredients: a source, fuel and oxygen.  Remove any one of these and the fire will be controlled, contained and (hopefully) put out.  It is something that is true for all fires, even those that occur in micro-gravities (and therefore obey obscure physical principles not seen in the general course of life planet-side).

It was slightly drastic, but as I’ve already said, I was on my own and to avoid some of the big risks I was willing to take a few (reasonably) small ones.  I bypassed various connections to the air conditioning system and created a direct link between the department that was being toasted and the nearest airlock, which I vented, removing the air from the compartment and snuffing out the fire.  I resealed the airlock, but left the compartment under vacuum.  Safer, in the long run, as it would allow me to ensure that the fire was fully out.  You’d be amazed at how long things can smoulder for, and residual heat can be a real problem.  Not to mention free radicals.  In ancient times hunters and the like would carry a piece of charred wood, usually still smouldering, in a special container since it is easier to (re-)ignite than even dry wood because the free-radicals reduce the energy required to start the oxidising reaction.   Not that there is that much wood on a spaceship, but the science holds for other polymers of which there are several tonnes worth on even the smallest of spacecraft.

I was in big trouble.  FTL was out of the question and even the ion drives were going to be temperamental at best.  Long range comms were patchy.  I was hoping that my AI companion was still mentally in one piece and that it was just having trouble talking to the ship’s computer.  It would be a while before I could sort that problem out, so for the time being I would ignore it.  Ok.  What are the positives?  Well, for a start I’m still alive…

 

© David Jesson, 2017

Flashfiction -Photoprompt

We’d made the campfire, had something to eat, swapped yarns: the whole thing was quite festive.

The fire was dying down, so we lay down and looked up at the night sky, continuing our discussion about how Earth-like the planet was, complete with the rock shaped by wind and water.  The night-sky was both familiar and unfamiliar – we could still make out the Milky Way, but none of our familiar constellations.

As wreckage from our spaceship made shooting stars,  two questions were in everyone’s minds: How were we going to get home?  Did we want to?

© David Jesson, 2017 (100 words)

#FlashFiction picture prompt

Ta da! It’s our first picture prompt here at FictionCanBeFun. No idea why it’s taken us so long to find one, it’s been on our To-Do list for ages …

Bearing in mind that November is often overwhelmed by NaNoWriMo, I’m going to keep the word count low this time.

 

Word count: 100-750
Deadline: 2pm on Friday 10th November 2017

 

Have fun! And let us know if you’d like more picture prompts.


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line.  

Two caveats if you want to go down this route: if you want to retain the copyright, then you will need to state this, and this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.